Book Review: Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Second Edition

McKnight, Scot, Lynn H. Cohick, Nijay K. Gupta, Eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Second Edition. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2023. 1264 pp. Hb; $70. Link to IVP Academic

In 1993, IVP Academic published the first edition of The Dictionary of Paul and his Letters (DPL). I was taking a seminary exegesis course on Paul’s letters, and the DPL was a required textbook. This was my first introduction to controversial topics like the New Perspective on Paul and Social-scientific approaches to Paul. When I began teaching Pauline Lit classes at the university, the DPL was a constant companion. I often send students to the Dictionary as a source for research papers. IVP Academic handed out samplers of this second edition and IBR, making it one of the most anticipated books of 2023.

Dictionary of Paul and His Letters

Remarkably, it has been thirty years since that first edition, and things have changed considerably in Pauline studies. The New Perspective is not new anymore. The Apocalyptic Paul and Paul within Judaism are hot topics barely covered in the original DPL. Today, people ask questions about sexuality and gender, which scholars rarely addressed in 1993.

As the editors explain in the preface, “The DPL2, as we editors call it, is not a mere touch-up of the original DPL but truly a completely new dictionary.” Although fifteen articles from the first edition were revised, the rest were written for the second edition. The IVP Academic promotional material states, “Over 95% of the articles have been written specifically for this edition.” The second edition is about 200 pages larger.

Scanning through the table of contents confirms this. This second edition has many new topics which need to be addressed; these caught my attention:

  • Louise A, Gosbell, Disability and Paul
  • Jamie P Davies, Apocalyptic Paul
  • J. Johnson Leese, Ecological Paul
  • Michael F. Bird, Supersessionism
  • Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity
  • Joshua Jipp, Hospitality
  • Trevor J. Burke, Kinship Language in Paul
  • Lynn H. Cohick, Paul and Judaism
  • Craig A. Evans, Qumran and Paul
  • Dean Flemming, Mission

Paul Trebilco updates his article on Travel and Itinerary Plans (“Itineraries, Travel Plans, Journeys, Apostolic Parousia” in the first edition) which now includes a detailed chart comparing Paul’s letters to the book of Acts.

Paul’s views on women and sexuality have become increasingly controversial in Pauline studies over the last thirty years. Michelle Lee-Barnewall contributes a detailed article on Man and Woman in Paul (dealing with several of the most controversial verses). This replaces Craig Keener’s excellent article in the first edition. Second, she also has an updated discussion of marriage and divorce (including adultery and incest), replacing Gerald Hawthorne’s brief article in the first edition. Lucy Peppiatt contributes a full article on Woman (in the first edition, there was only a pointer back to Hawthorne’s article). Judith. A. Oder has an article on Women named by Paul (Junia was a woman Paul counted as prominent among the apostles) and an article on maternal imagery in Paul. Justin K. Gill writes on Sexuality, Sexual Ethics. Unlike the first edition, this article has detailed information about both Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds to Paul’s sexual ethics. Preston Sprinkle contributed a much more detailed article on Homosexuality. The bibliographies for each of the articles bring the discussions up to date. Barry. N. Danylak add an article on Singleness and Celibacy.

One major section of the second edition is a collection of articles under the heading “Interpretation of Paul” spanning fifty pages. As Nijay Gupta explains in his introduction to the section, “A reader’s living world shapes their reading and interpretation, and all readers can learn from insights and perspectives from other communities” (483).

  • African American
  • Asian and Asian American
  • Augustine
  • Calvin
  • Jewish
  • Luther
  • Medieval
  • Modern European
  • New Perspective
  • Patristic
  • Postcolonial
  • Reading Paul Latinamente (Latin American)

This section is useful, but a section on feminist interpretations of Paul would improve the list (although there is a reference to feminist interpretations in the entry on postcolonial interpretation). Shane. J. Wood covers anti-imperial readings of Paul in his article on “Politics and Power.” Armin Baum contributes an article on pseudepigraphy, formerly covered only in first-edition articles on Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. Baum includes “coping strategies for canonical pseudepigraphy” in Catholic and Protestant traditions. The articles on Ephesians (Lynn Cohick) and the Pastoral Epistles (Lyn M Kidson) discuss pseudepigraphy. Both articles are open to traditional authorship but do not strongly advocate for the view.

The second edition also allows a new generation of scholars to contribute to the ongoing conversation. Sadly, some original contributors have passed on (I. Howard Marshall, Leon Morris, James Dunn, Larry Hurtado, Grant Osborne, Gordon Fee), and others have retired. Quite a few scholars who were only starting their careers when the first edition was published are now major contributors to DPL2. For example, both associate editors, Lynn Cohick and Nijay Gupta, are now established Pauline Literature scholars. Not only are the contributors younger, but they are more diverse. Judging only by names, I count twenty-eight women in the second edition, compared to only eight in the first. There are more international contributors.

One of the most important features of the Dictionary of Paul and his Letters is the bibliography at the conclusion of the article. There are often extensive and will point students and scholars to the relevant literature to further explore the topic. If you use the version in Logos Bible Software, many entries are tagged for easy reference.  Something new in the second edition: the author’s name is printed in bold in the bibliography, making the list easier to read.

Conclusion. The second edition of Dictionary of Paul and his Letters is worth the investment. You should immediately buy this book and keep the first edition handy since there is so little overlap between the two.



NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. I did also purchase the Logos edition. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Second Edition

  1. I think that question can be nuanced a few different ways (slight problems with chronology, more with theology, what to do with the Pastoral letters, etc.) I tend to let Luke “tell his story” and no get overly concerned with the differences between Acts and Epistles when I am teaching Acts. I am finishing out a semester class on Acts right now, and I am not sure I have ever raise questions about Luke’s presentation of Paul differing from the Epistles.

    But I teach Pauline Lit next Fall and I talk about the differences more there, mostly in the introductory lectures. I enjoyed Campbell’s Reframing Paul and though the idea of telling Paul’s story only from the epistles was an interesting project. But I also think the differences between Acts and Epistles is less dramatic than some scholars have made it out to be.

    Assuming you are *the* Steve Walton, we have met once or twice at SBL (maybe even once at an ETS Acts session).

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